Those of you who have been reading my column for some time probably know that I have a strong attachment to video games. Apart from being a big fan of games, I also study the technology that involves them. Over the years, I’ve focused a lot of NextGov stories on video games on a variety of topics, including PTSD games for veterans, how the military uses gaming technology in its latest simulations, government efforts to gamify, and even how some video games can demonstrate why security perimeters are still important even in this era of cloud computing – using zombies, of course.
Having spent much of my life since the early 1990s embracing the video game industry, I’m in a good position to notice truly game-changing trends (no puns) when they appear. So believe me when I say that Unreal Engine 5 will change everything in games, and probably in many other industries. But games are the place where he will first leave his mark.
Unreal Engine 5 is owned by Epic Games, which are probably best known as the creators of the popular game Fortnite battle royale. But Unreal Engine 5 will probably surpass even that fame very soon. Many gamers were exposed to the new Unreal engine in play for the first time Matrix Awakens demo released last December, which was free to download from PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X players. After a sequence of rail shooters, players could walk, drive and fly through one of the most realistic-looking cities ever portrayed in a game. I was amazed at what the new engine could do.
Don’t worry if you can’t play the demo, because you can still watch a short movie that goes through the whole sequence, just not interactively. It also features Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss of The Matrix as a bonus. When looking at the demo, keep in mind that while the combat sequences are cool, wandering through parts of the demonstration in the last part really shows the true potential of the engine.
The new engine can depict some incredibly realistic places and landscapes, but this is not really the most impressive feature. The fact is that it can do so in a way that keeps bandwidth and CPU needs low, so you can create a photorealistic living environment without the need for a Hollywood studio or supercomputer.
It does this with techniques such as Nanite Visualization, where programmers can dynamically create and display things like backgrounds or ambient effects without having to model each individual element. Not only does it allow worlds to be created almost dynamically, it also allows many more objects to be displayed without slowing down computers trying to run these simulations or games. There are many examples of people doing some crazy things with the new engine, such as depicting millions of hyper-realistic, giant donuts and then seamlessly going through the resulting simulation, using an aging computer with a weak graphics card to control it.
There are also examples where the new engine can be used for non-gaming applications, although it is clear that the gaming industry is the strongest in terms of capabilities at the moment. The next film offers a good compilation of 20 really good demonstrations created with Unreal Engine 5.
Everyone you can download Unreal Engine 5 for free and start using the tools to create your own amazing worlds or games. It’s free to use to create linear content such as movies or custom projects. It’s even free for most game developers, although the company notes that you have to pay a 5% royalty fee after your game earns over $ 1 million in revenue, so I guess keep that in mind.
Mars is becoming unreal
The reason I was so focused on Unreal this week is because of the message that several companies, including HeroX, Buendea and Epic Games, have partnered with NASA to sponsor a competition to create a virtual reality test bench using Unreal Engine 5, designed to help train astronauts for Mars missions.
Called The NASA MarsXR Challenge, he commissioned programmers to develop assets and scenarios for a virtual reality environment that models the types of tasks that may need to be performed during early human expeditions to Mars. NASA’s goal is to expose researchers and test subjects to immersive and realistic activities in space while on the Red Planet. The information obtained from these simulations may help NASA prepare for future human exploration of Mars. The best performers in this challenge will share a prize pool of $ 70,000.
And because this effort uses the Unreal Engine, NASA can be very specific and even demanding about what the scripts should contain. Some of the requirements for the simulation include:
- Full Martian days, with bright orange shades of the day, turning to deep blue at night.
- Realistic meteorological conditions for the planet and accurate Martian gravity.
- 400 square kilometers (approximately 154 square miles) realistic and explored Martian terrain.
- Some real NASA assets such as suits and rovers.
“Creators can use Unreal Engine to build realistic simulation scenarios to prepare NASA for future missions, whether it’s to the moon or Mars,” said Seb Loze, Unreal Engine’s director of simulation at Epic Games. “Whether you’re a game designer, an architect, an amateur or a rocket scientist, anyone can build with UE5, and we can’t wait to see the compelling simulations the community has to offer.”
If the scenarios the community is creating for the challenge are as impressive as some of the demonstrations I’ve seen, then NASA will have a really good training tool for its researchers and even future astronauts. Personally, I may never get to Mars, but I predict that some of these demonstrations will be quite close to the real thing. It will be a real pleasure to hook up VR headphones and start researching.
John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience in covering technology. He is the CEO of The Bureau of Technical Writers, a group that creates technology-led leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys